Curated by Natalia Ivanova Mount
John Law is an enigma. And if you ask him, he wants to stay that way. After forty-two years of artmaking, urban explorations, pranks, happenings and a multitude of essays, somehow, he remains largely unknown in the art establishment. What’s more is that hardly anyone is aware of his roles in significant collectives, some he has co-founded, others that he has been a contributor to: Communiversity, Suicide Club, The Cacophony Society, Billboard Liberation Front, Dark Passage/Ars Subterranea, Seafoam Palace LLC, SF Cyclecide Bike Rodeo, Survival Research Labs, SantaCon/flash mobs, Madagascar Institute, SEEMEN, Laughing Squid, Burning Man, and last but not least The Bronx Pipe Smoking Society.
I met John Law in 2017, when I co-curated The New Situationists exhibition. I was immediately taken aback by the sheer velocity and contemporaneity of John Law’s subversive, anti-establishment work. One can easily identify many contemporary art modalities in his work that have recently become influential, such as relational art for example. John’s working practice and production doesn’t sit well with the art world. It is highly unconventional art that feels uncomfortable for institutional curators to work with – particularly when that work actively agitates the institutional norms.
“John’s work offers tales from the underground that challenge doctrinaire analysis of our contemporary moment, characterized by a zombie like addiction to social media, weakening our ability or will to gather, explore and wonder informally,” says curator of the retrospective Natalia Mount. “We need the rituals of the underground today more than ever so we can imagine the world beyond capitalism, beyond commodification, desire and the menial production of objects and ideas in an art world, beholden to market value that institutions trade on, while exploiting the artists, central to the work. It is time to give props to one of the most under-recognized luminaries in San Francisco and beyond, John Law.
SIGNMAN: John Law retrospective will be accompanied by a public program, consisting of talks by several of John Law’s key collaborators and friends.
Don Herron: Originator of the Dashiell Hammett Walking Tour now in its 41st year. The tour is the longest live literary walking tour in America. Herron was, along with John Law an early member of the Suicide Club. He will be talking about live action role playing games and other events that he was involved in with Law. Herron is the editor and/or author of more than a dozen books, most dealing with hard-boiled detective fiction.
Ron English: Painter and influential street artist and billboard hacker. English and Jack Napier (John Law) of the Billboard Liberation Front became acquainted in the late 80s and worked together several times over the decades on billboard “improvements” in New York City and San Francisco. English was, along with Shepard Fairey and others a character in a Simpsons episode.
Julia Solis: An early originator in the world of urban exploration, Solis influenced later Urbex‘s luminaries, prominently Ninjalicious, Moses Gates, Steve Duncan and others in the “leave no trace” ethic adopted by the now world-wide community. Her two books, “New York Underground” and “Stages of Decay” are standard reading for serious urban explorers.
William Binzen: Large-format expansive-tableau photographer. Binzen devised much of the philosophy that later became integral to the Burning Man Festival’s culture. In conjunction with the Cacophony Society and John Law, Binzen’s created four Desert Site Works events in the early 1990s that were liminal experiences that resonate in the larger culture to this day.
Scott Beale: An early adopter of Internet based communication and social media, Scott was a primary figure in exposing the San Francisco’s artists & pranksters to the web. Long before Facebook, Scott’s “The Squid List” was how those interested in the SF underground found the most intriguing events, openings, shows, as well as other creative folks. Laughing Squid is one of the oldest independent web hosts and culture blogs. Scott was the first webmaster for Burning Man and, in his capacity as defacto scene videographer, filmed hundreds of Cacophony and early BM events and various other extreme group activities, taking place beyond the borders of normality.
About the Artist: John Law has been embedded in Oakland and San Francisco‘s underground art, pranks and events world since 1977. A member of the legendary Suicide Club, Law was instrumental in forming the later Cacophony Society which in turn gave birth to the Burning Man festival and the Billboard Liberation Front. Cacophony was the inspiration for the novel and movie Fight Club.
Law was a performance artist and an aerial performer in the 1990s working with machine art and theatrical troop Seemen and his on aerial performance troupe Aerial Action Team. An avid urban explorer, Law photographed many major bridges around the world while climbing them creating some unique images.In addition to cofounding and acting as Operations Manager of the Burning Man Festival during its early years,
Law pioneered the use of neon at the now world-famous festival and originated the neon outline for the Burning Man figure. Laws neon work included other desert collaborations, prominently Desert Site Works with photographer/artist William Binzen.
Law, along with with Flecher Fleurdujon, directed the feature film Head Trip showcasing the antics of punk rock performance troupe Cyclecide accompanying The Bay Area’s massive Doggie Diner heads on a cross-country trip to perform at the famous punk club CBGB’s in New York City.
Law is currently involved in creating new neon art pieces incorporating various plastic media, transparencies, found objects, and text. Law has lectured around the world on the history of Bay Area underground arts scene and its influence on the larger world.
Law remains deeply involved in the ongoing worldwide UrbEx scene and collaborates with many extreme underground exploration characters and secretive cabals.